Stand-up on TV doesn’t always work out. This is not to say that stand-up must never be broadcast – ordinary folks in the suburbs who can’t get to an inner city comedy club should get a chance to see stand-up on TV, right? It’s more that seeing stand-up in its natural home, an inner city comedy club, is the way to see it.
Stand-up comedy is written to be played live to a small group of people who’ve all had a couple, and stand-up routines are designed to play out over 5 minutes, or 10 minutes, or 20 minutes, or an hour. Many stand-ups pride themselves on developing narrative arcs in their routines, back-referencing to a gag they told 10 minutes earlier, exploring a theme in different ways, and then bringing it home with a great punchline. But when the TV people come along they don’t want to broadcast a 20 minute set, they want 2 minutes of funny before they cut to an ad break, or to something else; apparently those people in the suburbs get bored watching the same person talk for more than 3 minutes.
Louis CK, Stewart Lee, Ben Elton and others have got around the difficulties of presenting their stand-up on TV by introducing sitcom and sketch elements in to their series Louis, Stewart Lee’s Comedy Vehicle and The Man From Auntie.* At the opposite end of the spectrum was the late 90’s ABC series Smallest Room In The House, which filmed stand-up shows written for festivals “as live” in a studio decked-out to look like a comedy club. We remember it being good.
Less successful have been the shows where a crew turned up to a comedy club, filmed all the acts, then cut their routines to ribbons and edited the funniest ribbons together. The result was often a disjointed, context-free, unfunny mess, made worse by pointless cutaways to the comedians backstage drinking beers and mucking around together, and boring interviews with the stand-ups.
So it’s with some surprise that we’ve warmed to Stand Up @ Bella Union, a stand-up show which follows this approach. In the first episode there was a lot of fast editing and a lot of time given to showing snippets of Chas Licciardello interviewing Matt Okine, but in the second and third episodes the editor took a more relaxed approach, with each of the four or five comedians on the bill getting several 3-5 minute routines in the show and with less time spent on Licciardello’s interviews. The show is all the better for it.
It’s not that the interviews have been bad, it’s more that the stand-up’s good enough to hold its own. Indeed it would be interesting to see longer extracts from each routine as there are some promising, relatively-unknown comedians in the show who are as funny as the higher profile acts like Okine and Nazeem Hussein. And let’s face it, seeing new comedians on TV who are actually funny is pretty rare. So we want to see as much of them being funny as we possibly can.
* If you only know Ben Elton from Live From Planet Earth you’ll have to trust us when we say The Man From Auntie was good. In fact following the Live From Planet Earth debacle we got out our videos of The Man From Auntie (well, it was made in 1994) and we can confirm it holds up. Oh Ben Elton, where did it all go wrong? You were so funny once…
Worth mentioning ABC’s Warehouse Comedy Festival from the last few years, which is much the same as Smallest Room In The House, filming/archiving festival shows. 30 mins on TV, and the whole set on DVD.
And of course that Bella Union is essentially a remake of Stewart Lee’s Alternative Comedy Experience, which has also gotten criticism for cutting up the acts too much.
Some kind person has put all of The Man From Auntie on Youtube –
Hmm I think I need to catch up on this.
I’m pretty sure some of the material used on Live from Planet Earth was also in The Many From Auntie. I remember watching LFPE and thinking I’ve heard this stand-up before.
Elton’s notorious for re-using old material. His novels are full of bits from his 80s and 90s stand-up.